Life in the Shadows

God is often described as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” But of the three, Isaac seems to get the least attention. I read an article this morning about the role and function of Isaac in Genesis, the title of which highlights Isaac’s subordinate role among the patriarchs. It was called “Life in the Shadows.”

Maybe you know what “life in the shadows” feels like. As the middle patriarch, Isaac is kind of like a middle child who is constantly overshadowed by both his older and his younger siblings. Here are a couple of things I hadn’t really noticed before:

  • Abraham has 14 chapters exclusively devoted to him and Jacob has 9, Isaac only has one (Genesis 26).
  • Isaac is normally defined in terms of his relationship to the other patriarchs, either as the son of Abraham or as the father of Jacob.
  • In most stories, Isaac is largely passive. But even when he acts, he tends to “follow in the footsteps” of Abraham (lying about his wife, making covenant with Abimelech, etc.) or he is depicted as old and weak (as in the well-known story of the blessing of Jacob).

Isaac is hardly a larger than life figure. His significance is found not so much in what he does, but in that he receives the promises as a son of Abraham and passes them on to Jacob and to future generations. Here’s a snippet from the conclusion of the article:

Theologically, important statements are being made about the continuity of the promises through Isaac’s life. The promises were not inherited by merit, but were won for Isaac, and future generations, by Abraham. In turn, Isaac hands the blessing on to Jacob, the recipient of the promises, who was also a child chosen by God.

I think this ought to resonate for people who believe that by faith in Christ we are sons of Abraham (Gal 3:7,9,14, 29) and who believe that God’s covenant promises are still “for us and for our children (Acts 2:39). The promises of the covenant have been secured for us by God and we receive them through faith, despite our relative significance or insignificance in life. Moreover, real significance is found in becoming a link or bridge for passing on God’s covenant promises to a new generation. If this is “life in the shadows,” it is life lived in the shadow of the cross.